How Did the Child-Rearing Responsibility Suddenly Fall More on the Mother?

How did the child-rearing responsibility suddenly fall more on the mother than the father? A lot of us don’t think of this as a new idea, but historically it is a fairly new idea. And so what we see as oftentimes the goal or the ideal from the 1950s, that was fairly new, even in the 1950s, that the mother was sort of seen as the primary person that cared about the home. And one person has really done a lot of research along this, Blankenhorn, he wrote a book about fatherless families and he said, “God has given fathers a unique role in the education of their children. The word discipline did not originally mean punishment, it meant teaching. Just a few hundred years ago in colonial America, fathers bore the ultimate responsibility for the care and wellbeing of their children. Fathers assumed primary responsibility for what was seen as the most essential parenting task, the religious and moral education of the young. As the industrial revolution removed men from the household from the household economy, women became the primary influence in the home. This shift has been one of the defining features of American domestic life since the 1840s.”

And so if you think about this experiment is almost about 150 years old. What happens when we make a collective decision to disintegrate work from family, send the father out to work apart from the family, and then tell our wives and the mother that they’re the ones who need to pick up all the slack at home. How is that working? And seeing that as really kind of historically a new phenomenon for a lot of people isn’t something that they’ve realized. And so we’re all kind of recovering from how big of influence has this really had on the family. So I’m curious, Jeff, what are your thoughts on that?

Yeah, well, I feel like there’s a couple of different layers that I think we don’t realize always compounded the mom’s responsibility, right? So then you have the industrial revolution with the father’s work. So then the father leaves and kind of that vacuum is created where now the mom has to fill in all the gaps that the father did, then there was multi generational living and now there’s more private single generation living. So then grandmas and grandparents and other people in households help around the house and workers and employees and staff they would help, right. And they would be doing a bunch of different things. And then now that multi generational living isn’t true, then the mom again, takes that brunt. It can go on and on. There’s a few different steps in history where basically the system that we’ve created has actually basically every step of the way only made it harder for women at the expense of making it easier for everyone else.

And I just think that’s really fascinating and we have to wrestle with that because then in Christian cultures, we sometimes compound that, we then act like this is the way it’s always been when it actually hasn’t. Like you said, we’re not always going back to a biblical vision, we’re going back to more of a 1950s vision. And so I think, yeah, integration, unity, these things really matter. And the one thing I think of too specifically with the industrial revolution, that’s helpful to remember, and this is not cut and dry. Like the mom’s the only one that even talks to the baby at first, whatever, it’s not as cut and dry in that, we’re all sharing responsibilities and teams, but in the beginning, the way it does seem to play out well a couple of hundred years ago is where the mom kind of is primary caretaker of the child when the child has basically biological needs, right?

Like needing to be fed, needing to be nurtured, needing to be attached. So that’s the first, maybe couple of years, maybe a year and a half, two years. But then after, already by early toddlerhood you kind of see that then there’s this transition usually in that period to then fathers and almost seeing their kids as apprentices, right. You very quickly are put into like this apprenticeship following role of the father, where he is discipling you, apprenticing you towards different directions and so I just think we usually make that gap way longer. The mom takes care of the kid until the kid’s 20, and then maybe that person can go help the dad at work or something like that. I don’t know. Right. When I think it’s maybe like the first couple of years max, which is just an interesting way to think about it. And like I said, again, there’s overlap. We’ve got to take that with nuance, but yeah, something to think about and certainly ask yourself, especially dads, is your wife struggling under the weight of basically 150 years of compound societal decisions that are actually making her job way, way harder.

Latest Episode

Listen To Our Latest Podcast



Start Building a
Multigenerational Family Team

Live events







Family scouting report